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The Bike Project’s Desperate Search for a New Home, Otherwise Closure Looms

Published on: 15 Mar, 2022
Updated on: 16 Mar, 2022

The  Bike Project in 2014

By Cecilia Taylor

The Surrey Bike Project is facing eviction. One supporter says: “Closing down the project is like snuffing out a candle of hope.”

Its base at Guildford Borough Council’s Woking Road Depot is due to be redeveloped as part of the Weyside Urban Village (WUV) scheme. Unless they find new accommodation, they will have to cease operating in May and will be evicted and forced to close their doors forever in August.

But GBC says the length of the project’s tenancy at its Woking Road depot was always conditional because of the expected WUV development and that the council has tried hard to help the project find new premises.

The Bike Project, a charity, refurbishes bikes with experienced bike mechanics giving accredited STEM basic engineering training and passing on free mechanical skills to hundreds of people with learning disabilities, behavioural difficulties, mental health, school children (some excluded) and those who missed out on education due to disadvantages.

In the eight years they have been operating, 400 people have benefited from training given by the project. 160 accredited qualifications have been obtained and at least 80 participants have gained employment, others are volunteering or have entered full-time learning. The project also provides Duke of Edinburgh placements, HRH Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex has visited their workshop.

Prince Edward visiting the Bike Project in June 2018

The project has refurbished around 20,000 unwanted bikes, then sold and donated them to people and charities, helping ensure that everyone who wants it has access to a bicycle. 65 bikes were given to Surrey Heath BC to enable children to cycle to school and for leisure, rather than parents using cars.

The Bike Project is funded by Surrey Lifelong Learning Partnership, which has been established for 21 years to help people from disadvantaged communities to re-engage in learning, around 30 per cent gain employment and other progress to higher education.

Anne Rouse

Anne Rouse chairperson of the Partnership said: “As you can imagine this is a worrying time for the project as we are required to vacate the current site by August 21.

“We have been exploring options to relocate our workshop within the Guildford area but nothing as yet.  It may be that we will need to temporarily move further afield.   Our current workshop is about 10 x 10 metres square and anything approximating to this would solve the problem.

“Thanks to the support of our wonderful and skilled volunteers and the enthusiasm of staff the Project continues to provide opportunities for learning and to provide high quality and affordable Bikes for the community.    It is however a challenging time for the project and any suggestions Dragon readers may have will be considered.”

But it’s not just the local community who benefit from The Bike Project. Having trained a Ugandan volunteer to be a qualified bike mechanic, they donated bikes, trailers and spare parts to local charity Seeds for Development to be used in villages in northern Uganda.

Seeds for Development’s Founder Alison Hall, MBE, said: “I can’t believe that such a valuable community project might have to close. As well as providing learning opportunities for so many people in and around Guildford and bikes to those who can’t afford them, the Bike Project saves lives in villages in northern Uganda.

“Remote communities have set up bicycle ambulance services to take their sick children to hospital safely and quickly in the trailers attached to bikes ridden by parents. These were donated by The Bike Project.

“There are so many villages in desperate need, closing down the project is like snuffing out a candle of hope.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Council Leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) told The Dragon that he feels GBC have tried very hard to help the Bike Project. In an email to James Walsh, one of the two Labour councillors who represent Stoke ward, listed the actions carried out by the GBC to find new premises. He wrote:

  • “We have undertaken a site visit with the Bike Project to a vacant retail unit in Southway (next to its existing shop), but this didn’t meet their requirements
  • “We have reviewed the availability of other premises within our own property portfolio, but nothing suitable has been identified
  • “We had agreed in principle to provide some funding (through Additional Restrictions Grant) to support the costs of a move to premises identified by the Bike Project in Merrow. The Bike Project subsequently decided that the property was not suitable
  • “We have supported a communications campaign looking for new premises for the Bike Project (press release, social media etc)
  • “We have put them in touch with LoCASE (SCC) which might allow themto apply for a £10k project grant
  • “We also continue to provide another GBC property [for the project] at a subsidised rent in Southway.”

The former New Orleans restaurant next to the Odeon cinema, off Bedford Road, was also considered. Although spacious with a central location that would have made the premises accessible, extensive and costly preparatory work would have been required because a public authority would be the landlord rather than a private owner.

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Responses to The Bike Project’s Desperate Search for a New Home, Otherwise Closure Looms

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    March 15, 2022 at 9:02 am

    Like all “enabling actions” for the Weyside Urban Village, is the cost of destroying what exists worth it?

  2. Mark Stamp Reply

    March 15, 2022 at 9:10 am

    With so many vacant shops in the town centre there must be some space that they can use. Landlords might be willing to house them on a meanwhile lease which will remove the landlord’s business rate liability. It could also double as a place for town centre visitors to leave bikes securely and could offer changing facilities to make commuting by bike more attractive.

  3. Sue Hackman Reply

    March 15, 2022 at 10:44 am

    This is a brilliant project at a time when every council document is full of good intentions about cycle paths, sustainable travel and healthier living.

    I’m surprised that the council can’t see its way to translate these fine words into practical assistance. After all, it has found money for new bridges and property development: perhaps it’s time to put more priority on people-powered travel?

    Sue Hackman is a spokesperson for Guildford Labour

  4. John Cooke Reply

    March 15, 2022 at 6:13 pm

    Merrist Wood College are offering apprenticeship courses in bicycle mechanics and presumably have space to run them. Maybe these organisations should be talking to each other?

  5. Mark Insoll Reply

    March 16, 2022 at 12:56 pm

    I sincerely hope they do find new local premises. They recently did an excellent job of servicing one of our old bikes, and at a competitive price. As Sue Hackman says, it’s a brilliant and very timely project.

  6. Nigel Burke Reply

    March 16, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    Might the Zero Carbon Centre in Friary Street have space? Or Guildford College? In the longer term, I understand the new Weyside Urban Village will have a “Sustainable Transport Hub” – what better place to host the Bike Project.

    Editor’s comment: We understand that the Zero Carbon Centre was considered but found to be unsuitable.

  7. Jane Hepburn Reply

    March 16, 2022 at 10:11 pm

    I absolutely agree with Nigel Burke. We have been following the Weyside Urban Village development plans closely and since one of its tenets is to provide cycle routes and eco-friendly everything, why on earth can’t they find a space there to have a cycle workshop?

    Perhaps this could be one of the requirements during the planning consultation process. I have already suggested this but have had no reply from them.

    Gus Ferenczy and his team are magnificent, even more magnificent than I had originally thought, having now read of all their achievements in your excellent article. They are enthusiasts, they love cycling and helping people get back on the road, us included on several occasions.

    Guildford Borough Council is pushing cycling in its town plan, why not make the bike project a central feature of the town’s cycling community instead of making them beg and go cap-in-hand to find new premises? The search for a new place should be GBC-led. Very often people who run these kinds of projects do not have the resources or the contacts to know what is out there. GBC does and should be in the lead, helping them re-site their amazing community service.

  8. J Watt Reply

    March 19, 2022 at 8:49 am

    How disappointing that such a worthwhile project should be cast out by their council. Shame on Guildford Borough Council for turning their backs on people who need to learn employment skills. We all benefit from the zero carbon travel of cyclists who can use the Dagley Lane route the county council has pushed through the leafy lanes locally.

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